To celebrate World Breast Pumping Day on Jan. 27, we’re unveiling King County Metro’s lactation shuttle. The lactation shuttle is available to Metro’s breastfeeding bus drivers who need to pump during the workday.
The shuttle, completed last year, is a specially-retrofitted Access Paratransit van that was completely reimagined and reconstructed by Metro to meet the unique needs of lactating employees. The program is part of Metro’s overhaul of its entire lactation program, which includes the prior addition of lactation rooms to Metro’s bus bases and other worksites.
“We are an employer who is inspired by our employees to continuously improve our workplace to make it a welcoming space for all,” said Shannon Braddock, King County Executive Office deputy chief of staff. “We are pleased that Metro’s enhanced lactation program and practices will further support the health and wellbeing of breastfeeding employees transitioning back to work.”
Solar-powered and luxuriously appointed, the lactation shuttle enables bus drivers to pump in the field safely and comfortably. The shuttle includes:
- A permanent hospital-grade pump so that employees need only bring their personal pump attachments. Employees are each provided with stainless steel insulated bottles to preserve milk for the remainder of their shift.
- An enclosed bathroom with toilet, plus a sink with running water and a mirror.
- Custom-made curtains and shades for privacy. Windows are wrapped from the outside so that the shuttle user can see out, but no one can see in.
- A charging station and outlets supported by solar panels, which also provide an eco-friendly way to keep the vehicle running while an employee is pumping.
- A hand-stitched, upholstered couch, pillows, and seats constructed out of plush, yet liquid-resistant, antimicrobial materials.
- Original paintings created by King County Metro employee and member of the Blackfeet Nation, Don Charbonneau.
- Safety features including LED lights and anti-slip, industrial grade flooring, plus two-way radio capabilities so that an operator can contact someone outside the vehicle without opening the door, or notify Metro’s control center in the event of an emergency.
King County already offered robust benefits to its employees, including parent-specific benefits such as generous parental leave policy, alternative work schedules, support for single parents, childcare consulting services, and daycare flexible spending accounts (FSAs), but identified a gap in care for breastfeeding bus drivers when a group of female employees approached Metro’s leadership in 2019 and voiced that their lactation needs were not being met.
“I’ve been a driver for four and a half years and spent the last year as a breastfeeding mom of an infant,” said Aubrey Washington, a Metro bus driver who was one of the women in the initial group. “Before, it was challenging to find a private place to pump. It was eventually an option to pump at my base in the chief’s office, but the systems weren’t in place to make it an option I felt comfortable pursuing.”
Two months later, King County Metro launched an enhanced program to create a positive experience across all bus bases and worksites for breastfeeding employees. Facility upgrades included six freshly-furnished lactation rooms, one at each bus base, plus lactation rooms at Metro’s two administrative locations. Each lactation room features a keypad lock, hospital-grade pump, chair, table, and refrigerator.
The process through which an employee returns to work also received a makeover. At the close of parental leave, a base chief proactively schedules a meeting with the returning employee and Employee Services to develop a customized support plan. Regular meetings occur for up to two years as the employee’s needs evolve. Each base chief, superintendent, and dispatch employee also received specialized training on how to better support their lactating colleagues and to address misconceptions.
How the lactation shuttle works
Metro compensates operators for time spent pumping and associated travel time. Pumping location and frequency varies per employee and, in some cases, per shift, depending on route assignment. Part of Metro’s discovery process revealed that not all employees want to spend the time returning to a bus base in order to pump.
“Prior to the shuttle, a relief driver would meet me on my route with a car that I took back to the base to pump. Then I would catch back up with my bus to continue my shift. This happened two to three times per shift,” said Aubrey, who drove both Route 36 and the C Line.
With the lactation shuttle as an option, bus drivers can avoid the stress of fighting traffic to get back to the base in time to pump. A relief driver brings the lactation shuttle to meet the operator on route, the two drivers switch places, and the bus continues on its route. Once the pumping is complete, the shuttle catches up with the bus and the two drivers switch back.
It is estimated that employees who use the lactation shuttle will save anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes per shift when compared to returning to a bus base mid-shift to use a lactation room. However, Metro’s goal with this service is not simply to save time and resources, but to support new parents with a suite of lactation options that can be customized to fit each parent’s unique needs.
“We are pleased that every single work group within Metro – from Vehicle Maintenance to Facilities to Bus Operations to Capital Projects – engaged on this project, providing an educational moment on some of the challenges faced by breastfeeding parents returning to work,” said Lisa Voight, Metro’s director of employee services. “This service reiterates King County’s commitment to help new parents prioritize family life while continuing to do their jobs well.”
There are currently nearly 600 female employees driving Metro buses, which represents 22% of all bus drivers. The lactation shuttle is a pilot project specifically for bus operators and will continue to be refined based on employee feedback and frequency of use. One other retired Access Paratransit van already has been earmarked for a future lactation shuttle if demand dictates. The cost to retrofit a retired Access vehicle into the first lactation shuttle was $157,000, and the total cost of furnishing all the lactation rooms at bases and worksites was $21,000, all funded by Metro.